Associate Professor Eliza Hawkes Appointed as Chief Clinical Research Officer at ONJCRI

Associate Professor Eliza Hawkes Appointed as Chief Clinical Research Officer at ONJCRI

The Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute is delighted to announce that Associate Professor Eliza Hawkes has been appointed as the new Chief Clinical Research Officer (CCRO).

A/Prof. Hawkes, a medical oncologist, is a highly respected, known for her innovative work and leadership in lymphoma research. Her appointment marks a new chapter in the Institute’s efforts to push the boundaries of cancer research and treatment.

A/Prof. Hawkes is renowned for her significant contributions to the field of oncology, particularly in lymphoma research. Her work has been instrumental in advancing the use of immunotherapy and novel therapeutic approaches for lymphoma patients. Her leadership in clinical trials has positioned her as a key figure in oncology research, making her appointment as CCRO a natural progression in her career.

In her new role as CCRO, A/Prof. Hawkes will be responsible for aligning ONJCRI’s clinical research initiatives with its overarching goals of enhancing patient outcomes and advancing cancer research. Reporting directly to the CEO and serving as an integral member of the Executive Committee, she will provide strategic oversight, leadership, and advocacy in clinical research endeavours.

A/Prof. Hawkes’ appointment comes at a time when ONJCRI is poised to make significant strides in cancer research and patient care. Her vision and leadership will be instrumental in driving forward the Institute’s mission to transform cancer care through innovative research and collaboration.

We congratulate A/Prof. Hawkes on her appointment and look forward to the profound impact she will undoubtedly have in her new role. Her commitment to excellence, patient-centred research, and strategic vision will be invaluable as ONJCRI continues to lead the way in cancer research and treatment.


IT Service Desk support role

Be part of the fight against cancer! IT Service Desk support role at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute

 

Make a real difference

This is your chance to join a passionate team dedicated to accelerating cancer research. As the IT Service Desk Support, you’ll provide critical technical support to our world-class researchers, empowering them to focus on developing lifesaving treatments and therapies.

What you’ll do:

  • Troubleshoot and resolve IT issues for researchers, ensuring their equipment and software run smoothly.
  • Provide level 1 support for computing devices such as desktops, laptops, A/V equipment, and lab equipment
  • Create and maintain detailed ticket information.
  • Perform routine system administration tasks such as account management
  • Proactively identify areas for improvement and collaborate with the IT team to enhance IT services for the Institute through process improvements and documentation.

You’re a perfect fit if you have:

  • Proven level 1 experience in IT support, especially with Windows and Mac systems, software like MS Office and Adobe Suite, and scientific applications.
  • An understanding of Active Directory, Office365 administration, MS Entra ID, MS 365 apps and services, virtual meeting platforms (Zoom/Teams), servers and networks (experience with MS Server OS a plus).
  • Hands-on experience with computer hardware installation and troubleshooting, imaging and setup of systems including applications
  • A self-starter with a passion for excellent customer service, a dedication to teamwork and be conscientious delivering a critical IT function.
  • Strong analytical and problem-solving skills with the ability to prioritise tasks and manage time effectively in a diverse and dynamic environment
  • The ability to build rapport with researchers and other stakeholders.
  • Minimum of 12 months experience

We offer:

  • A competitive salary with generous benefits package (up to $18,550).
  • 5 additional paid days off per year.
  • The opportunity to contribute to a meaningful cause in a dynamic research environment.

Apply today!

Send your cover letter, CV, and contact details for 3 references to Peter Lawry (IT Manager) at jobs@onjcri.org.au (mention reference number ONJCRI-0140/2024).


Animal ethics Committee Member (Category C)

Animal ethics Committee Member (Category C)

The Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute is a leader in pioneering cancer treatments. Our vision is to help people live better with cancer and defeat it. Our mission is to discover and develop breakthrough cancer therapies to provide the best health outcomes for patients.

 

Core Responsibilities of the Animal Ethics Committee Members

 

The use of animals for scientific purposes and teaching is governed by Australian and Victorian Legislation (the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations 2019) and the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes 8th edition 2013 (the Code).

The roles and responsibilities of the AEC members are to ensure:

  1. Education and Legal Familiarity: Members should be willing to engage in education about ethics issues and familiarise themselves with relevant legislation and codes, such as Part 3 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (VIC), Part 5 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations 2019 (VIC), Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes.
  2. Independent Review: Members should be able to contribute to discussions independently and bring an impartial view to the committee’s deliberations.
  3. Ethical Review Process: Review and approve research project applications and associated documentation, ensuring that only ethically acceptable projects are approved.
  4. Commitment to Review: Members must commit time to thoroughly review applications and supporting documents before each meeting and attend committee meetings regularly.
  5. Communication: Regularly check and respond to emails and be available to respond to AEC Executive items as required, even outside of scheduled meetings.
  6. Site Inspections: Attend annual site inspections of animal holding facilities to ensure compliance with ethical standards and regulations.
  7. Conflict of Interest Disclosure: Members should declare any conflicts of interest before discussing or making decisions on matters related to those interests.
  8. Confidentiality: Maintain strict confidentiality regarding all meeting processes and discussions.
  9. Self-Evaluation: Complete an annual self-evaluation of the committee’s performance to identify areas for improvement.
  10. Corporate Policies and Practices: Abide by the corporate policies and practices of the organisation, such as ONJCRI.
  11. Confidentiality Agreement: Sign a confidentiality agreement to ensure the protection of sensitive information related to patients, employees, policies, processes, and projects.

 

Specific requirements for the position

 

These responsibilities ensure that the Category C member contributes effectively to the committee’s efforts to uphold ethical standards and promote animal welfare in research activities.

  1. Bringing Ethical and Animal Welfare Perspective: The Category C member should contribute an ethical and animal welfare perspective to the committee’s deliberations and activities.
  2. Awareness of Community Expectations: They should be aware of current community expectations and concerns regarding animal welfare and be able to effectively communicate these concerns within the committee.
  3. Commitment to Improving Animal Welfare: The member should demonstrate a strong commitment to and experience in improving the welfare of animals.
  4. Independence from Utilising Institutions: They should not be otherwise associated with institutions that utilise the animal ethics committee.
  5. Association with Animal Welfare Organisations: While not representing an animal welfare organisation, preference may be given to individuals who are active members of and endorsed by such organisations.
  6. Veterinarian Eligibility: Veterinarians with specific interests and experience in animal welfare may be eligible for this category.
  7. Responsiveness to Executive Items: Like other committee members, they should be responsive to AEC Executive items outside of monthly meetings.
  8. Attendance at Site Inspections: They should attend annual site inspections of animal holding facilities to assess welfare standards and compliance.

 

Essential Qualifications, skills, and expertise

  • Individuals with demonstrable commitment to, and experience in, animal welfare
  • Have an awareness of current community animal welfare concerns.
  • Should demonstrate computer literacy skills – Skills in using Microsoft Word, and Excel and the ability to communicate through emails. Must be able to use online communication platforms such as Zoom and Teams where required.
  • Must be able to learn animal and ethics management systems where required. Training will be provided.
  • The individual must not have an existing affiliation with ONJCRI and will not be currently involved in the care and use of animals for scientific purposes in the institute.
  • Must be able to attend AEC meetings that are held at ONJCRI once a month on Wednesdays between February to December (10:00-1:00). These sessions are remunerated.

 

Desirable qualifications

  • Active membership of, and endorsement by, an animal welfare organisation is desirable.

 

Benefits

 

As a member of the ONJCRI AEC, you will receive the following benefits:

  • Remuneration to support costs you incur associated with performing your role and attending meetings.
  • Training support for your role as an AEC member
  • The opportunity to understand the cutting-edge cancer research being performed at the ONJCRI.
  • Development of knowledge related to the legislative framework governing animal use in research.

 

Submit your applications as a brief CV with a cover letter to Lakmie Gunarathne, Research Ethics and Governance Manager using the subject line:

“Animal Ethics Committee Member – Category C (Voluntary)”

The cover letter should address the Specific Requirements for the position, explain why you are interested in joining the Animal Ethics Committee, and include any relevant qualifications, skills, or attributes.

 


Animal ethics Committee Member (Category A)

Animal ethics Committee Member (Category A)

The Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute is a leader in pioneering cancer treatments. Our vision is to help people live better with cancer and defeat it. Our mission is to discover and develop breakthrough cancer therapies to provide the best health outcomes for patients.

 

Core Responsibilities of the Animal Ethics Committee Members

 

The use of animals for scientific purposes and teaching is governed by Australian and Victorian Legislation (the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations 2019) and the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes 8th edition 2013 (the Code).

The roles and responsibilities of the AEC members are to ensure:

  1. Education and Legal Familiarity: Members should be willing to engage in education about ethics issues and familiarise themselves with relevant legislation and codes, such as Part 3 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (VIC), Part 5 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations 2019 (VIC), Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes.
  2. Independent Review: Members should be able to contribute to discussions independently and bring an impartial view to the committee’s deliberations.
  3. Ethical Review Process: Review and approve research project applications and associated documentation, ensuring that only ethically acceptable projects are approved.
  4. Commitment to Review: Members must commit time to thoroughly review applications and supporting documents before each meeting and attend committee meetings regularly.
  5. Communication: Regularly check and respond to emails and be available to respond to AEC Executive items as required, even outside of scheduled meetings.
  6. Site Inspections: Attend annual site inspections of animal holding facilities to ensure compliance with ethical standards and regulations.
  7. Conflict of Interest Disclosure: Members should declare any conflicts of interest before discussing or making decisions on matters related to those interests.
  8. Confidentiality: Maintain strict confidentiality regarding all meeting processes and discussions.
  9. Self-Evaluation: Complete an annual self-evaluation of the committee’s performance to identify areas for improvement.
  10. Corporate Policies and Practices: Abide by the corporate policies and practices of the organisation, such as ONJCRI.
  11. Confidentiality Agreement: Sign a confidentiality agreement to ensure the protection of sensitive information related to patients, employees, policies, processes, and projects.

 

Specific requirements for the position

 

These responsibilities ensure that the Category C member contributes effectively to the committee’s efforts to uphold ethical standards and promote animal welfare in research activities.

  1. Bringing Ethical and Animal Welfare Perspective: The Category C member should contribute an ethical and animal welfare perspective to the committee’s deliberations and activities.
  2. Awareness of Community Expectations: They should be aware of current community expectations and concerns regarding animal welfare and be able to effectively communicate these concerns within the committee.
  3. Commitment to Improving Animal Welfare: The member should demonstrate a strong commitment to and experience in improving the welfare of animals.
  4. Independence from Utilising Institutions: They should not be otherwise associated with institutions that utilise the animal ethics committee.
  5. Association with Animal Welfare Organisations: While not representing an animal welfare organisation, preference may be given to individuals who are active members of and endorsed by such organisations.
  6. Veterinarian Eligibility: Veterinarians with specific interests and experience in animal welfare may be eligible for this category.
  7. Responsiveness to Executive Items: Like other committee members, they should be responsive to AEC Executive items outside of monthly meetings.
  8. Attendance at Site Inspections: They should attend annual site inspections of animal holding facilities to assess welfare standards and compliance.

 

Essential Qualifications, skills, and expertise

  1. Educational Requirement:
    • Individuals with a degree registerable in Australia as a veterinary surgeon.
  2. Membership Criteria:
    • Currently registered with any Australian Veterinary Surgeons Board or equivalent.
    • Confirmed to have been awarded a veterinary qualification from a recognised institution that meets the requirements of any Australian Veterinary Surgeons Board or equivalent (e.g., BVSc, MRCVS, DVM from recognised institutions).
  1. Should demonstrate computer literacy skills – Skills in using Microsoft Word, and Excel and the ability to communicate through emails. Must be able to use online communication platforms such as Zoom and Teams where required.
  2. Must be able to learn animal and ethics management systems where required. Training will be provided.
  3. Must be able to attend AEC meetings that are held at ONJCRI once a month on Wednesdays between February to December (10:00-1:00). These sessions are remunerated.

 

Benefits

 

As a member of the ONJCRI AEC, you will receive the following benefits:

  • Remuneration to support costs you incur associated with performing your role and attending meetings.
  • Training support for your role as an AEC member
  • The opportunity to understand the cutting-edge cancer research being performed at the ONJCRI.
  • Development of knowledge related to the legislative framework governing animal use in research.

Submit your applications as a brief CV with a cover letter to Lakmie Gunarathne, Research Ethics and Governance Manager using the subject line:

“Animal Ethics Committee Member – Category A (Voluntary)”

The cover letter should address the Specific Requirements for the position, explain why you are interested in joining the Animal Ethics Committee, and include any relevant qualifications, skills, or attributes.

 


Empowering the future of clinical research

The ONJCRI has opened its doors to student talent, aiming to inspire the next generation of clinical researchers and experience the wide-ranging benefits of the La Trobe University student industry placements program.

During a recent industry placement, Bachelor of Biomedicine student, Haroon Singh Gill, dove into the intricate world of clinical trials at ONJCRI. Under the guidance of Kylie Wilkie, Senior Manager of Clinical Operations, ONJCRI, he received comprehensive training and completed a certification in ‘Good Clinical Practice’. This equipped him with invaluable skills – making him an even greater asset to his new colleagues and aligning with his area of interest.

“My university studies, particularly in my third-year core subject MED3ATA focusing on cancer, align closely with the practical experience gained through my workplace placement at ONJCRI. Integrating knowledge acquired from both realms has been instrumental in my learning journey,” says Haroon.

Student placements offer mutual benefits to both industry and university. Haroon’s dedicated contributions improved staff resourcing within the Clinical Trial Unit, allowing it to prioritise critical areas. Simultaneously, this experience provided Haroon with invaluable mentorship and opportunities for personal development.

Kylie Wilkie (Left) and Haroon Singh Gill (Right)

“Haroon has been such an amazing help to our team. Not only has he assisted in our workload, it has (also) been a great opportunity for the team to develop their mentoring skills,” reflects Kylie.

“My team and I, in the Clinical Trial Unit at ONJCRI, love what we do. Our (role) in managing all aspects of clinical trials is so rewarding (and) we welcomed the opportunity to show science students there are roles available beyond the lab.

“Through student placements, we may inspire the next generation of potential clinical researchers,” says Kylie.

Haroon actively participated in the day-to-day operations of various clinical trials, even joining a monitoring visit at a regional site. From drafting protocols to collating data for an upcoming abstract, he experienced the dynamic nature of clinical trials up close, gaining deep insights into the multidimensional aspects of this important work.

“I have gained hands-on experience in a real-world work environment, allowing me to apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations, enhancing my readiness to tackle similar tasks in the future.

“Working in a tight-knit team for my placement has been a great opportunity to develop my soft skills, most importantly communication, teamwork and problem solving,” reflects Haroon.

As ONJCRI demonstrates, La Trobe student industry placements pave the way for workforce development, staff mentorship and organisational success.

La Trobe and ONJCRI have a strong partnership built on a shared vision to make a global impact on the prevention and treatment of cancer through research advancement and student training.

 

Are you a member of industry and interested in La Trobe’s student industry placement program?

Together, through these exchanges of knowledge, experience, and dedication, we can build a resilient, industry-ready and future-focused workforce, united in our commitment to the growth and development of individuals and the broader community.

Securing students for an industry placement is a simple process. We can assist you throughout – from the development of a placement description to promoting to students and signing an agreement.

To get started, visit Engaging student talent or contact La Trobe Talent on latrobetalent@latrobe.edu.au

For general enquiries or more information, please contact industry.engagement@latrobe.edu.au

 

Article by Pia-Therese Hams, view the original article here.


Ethics Officer

Join the Fight Against Cancer: Be an Ethics Officer at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute

The Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI) is a leader in pioneering cancer treatments. We’re dedicated to developing breakthroughs for a variety of cancers, including breast, bowel, lung, and more. Our goal? To outsmart cancer and help people live better, defeat it altogether.

Make a real difference in medical research. As our Ethics Officer, you’ll play a vital role in ensuring research ethics and biosafety compliance. You’ll support researchers, committees, and stakeholders, all working towards groundbreaking discoveries.

What you’ll do:

  • Assist researchers with animal ethics and biosafety approvals
  • Manage the ethics application process from start to finish
  • Prepare meeting materials and attend Animal Ethics Committee meetings
  • Maintain institutional ethics and biosafety databases
  • Provide communication and training on ethics and biosafety proceedures
  • Post-approval project compliance monitoring and supporting researchers in addressing  non-compliance and adverse events
  • Promote researcher participation in ethics training programs

What you’ll bring:

  • Bachelor’s degree in science (biology, medicine, etc.) with previous research experience (preferred)
  • Knowledge of  the principles and conduct of ethical research and relevant regulatory frameworks.
  • Excellent organization, time management, and communication skills
  • Ability to prioritize and multitask effectively
  • Strong attention to detail and commitment to accuracy
  • Collaborative spirit and ability to work independently
  • Proficiency in Microsoft Office Suite (Outlook, Word, Excel, etc.)
  • Knowledge of relevant codes (Australian Code for Animal Care and Use, etc.)
  • Integrity, accountability, and a results-oriented mindset

We offer:

  • Competitive salary and benefits package (up to $18,550)
  • 5 extra paid days off per year
  • Flexible work arrangements
  • The chance to make a significant impact in cancer research

Ready to join the fight?

Send your cover letter, CV, and reference details to Lakmie Gunarathne, Research Ethics and Governance Manager jobs@onjcri.org.au and mention reference ONJCRI-Ethics.

Make a Difference. Apply Today!


Day of Immunology Discovery Tour at ONJCRI - 1st May 2024

Don't miss this great opportunity to discover our research laboratories!

You are invited to a FREE behind-the-scenes look at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI) immunology labs to celebrate the annual Day of Immunology. Hear from passionate researchers, see the facilities where discoveries happen, see cancer cells under a microscope and learn more about cancer and immunology.

Our priority is to outsmart cancer. We want to detect cancer earlier, improve existing treatments, and discover new cures that help people live better beyond cancer. We do this by discovering and developing new cancer therapies to provide real and life changing benefits for people impacted by cancer.

With researchers based just metres from where people are receiving treatment, our scientific discoveries are rapidly translated into breakthrough therapies. Our four core research programs focus on developing treatments for a range of cancers including breast, bowel and gastrointestinal tract, lung, skin, liver and brain cancer. Emerging knowledge from the laboratory is quickly translated into clinical trials, with our investigators overseeing active trials right across Australia. Observations from the clinic are then investigated by our research team, creating a continual cycle of learning and improvement between scientific research and patient care.

We invite you to join our free tours, each run for approximately 90 minutes. Please arrive 15 minutes prior to the scheduled start time. As tour groups visit a working laboratory, closed toe shoes (preferably flat) must be worn for occupational health and safety reasons.

Hear from our speakers:

Getting to the Institute:

Paid parking is available at the Austin hospital, and we are just opposite Heidelberg train station.


Latest study finds a new player in inflammatory bowel disease

Latest study finds a new player in inflammatory bowel disease.

A team of researchers at the ONJCRI has discovered a new master controller essential for a healthy gut and the prevention of diseases associated with inflammation of this organ critical for life.

Inflammatory bowel disease which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis is a painful and debilitating condition. Australia has one of the highest rates of the disease in the world affecting 100,000 Australians. Symptoms can include excruciating abdominal pain, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, and weight loss. These can be severe enough requiring hospitalisation for treatment. Currently therapies only treat the symptoms and the disease remains incurable.

In a study just published in Communications Biology, Associate Professors Erinna Lee and Doug Fairlie from the ONJCRI and La Trobe University, identify a new molecule needed for a normal functioning gut. The absence of this molecule leads to the symptoms associated with inflammatory bowel disease. Critically, this molecule is also a known tumour suppressor.

“As people with inflammatory bowel disease are at higher risk of developing bowel cancer, we are excited that we now have a basis to understand the causative links between these two devastating diseases,” Associate Professor Doug Fairlie said.

This multi-institutional study, with co-first authors and PhD students, Sharon Tran and Juliani, was supported by collaborators from the Francis Crick Institute, University College London, Austin Health, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, The University of Melbourne, and The Garvan Institute.


Distinct immune cells coordinate to control the adverse effects of excessive fat

Distinct immune cells coordinate to control the adverse effects of excessive fat.

ONJCRI researchers have identified a network of distinct immune cell populations that work together to dampen the negative effects of visceral fat build-up associated with aging and obesity that can otherwise lead to diseases such as diabetes.

Visceral body fat is the “hidden” fat stored around our internal organs such as our liver and intestines. This fat is essential for our normal function as it serves as both an energy store and an endocrine organ critical for ensuring metabolic balance. However, excessive visceral fat can lead to serious health issues and the onset of metabolic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke due to the unwanted inflammation and metabolic imbalance that ensues.

In an exciting new study published in the prestigious journal Nature Immunology, Tissue and Tumour Immunity Lab head, Dr. Ajith Vasanthakumar, together with collaborator Professor Axel Kallies and colleagues from the Doherty Institute, has discovered two distinct immune cell populations present in visceral fat that differ in prevalence between males and females.

“We found that both these immune cell populations perform distinct roles in protecting against age-, sex- and diet-associated metabolic dysfunction,” said Dr. Vasanthakumar.

“Interestingly, how these immune cells develop and function differ between men and women providing us with insights into the sex-bias associated with the incidence of metabolic diseases. Importantly, we now have a better understanding of how we can develop targeted interventions to combat such diseases”.

These findings also have implications in other visceral fat rich organs such as the breast as it is long known that obesity is linked to high incidence of breast cancer. This ground-breaking study was a multi-institutional collaboration between The Doherty institute, University of Melbourne, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, WEHI and La Trobe University.


New microbiome insights could help boost immunotherapy for a range of cancers

A person’s microbiome can aid treatment for multiple different cancer types, allowing researchers to develop microbial tests or treatments to help support immunotherapy in the future.  

The microbiome can identify those who benefit from combination immunotherapy across multiple different cancers, including rare gynaecological cancers, biliary tract cancers and melanoma. Researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, UK and the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, Australia, and collaborators, have identified specific strains of bacteria that are linked with a positive response to combination immunotherapy in the largest study of its kind.

The study, published in Nature Medicine, details a signature collection of microorganisms in an individual’s gut bacteria that may help identify those who would benefit from combination immunotherapy and help explain why the efficacy of this treatment is otherwise hard to predict. In the future, understanding more about these bacteria strains can help drive the development of next-generation probiotics, known as ‘live biotherapeutic products’, that focus on modulating the microbiome to support combination immunotherapy from the inside.

Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that harnesses the body’s immune system to target the cancer. While it can be very effective, it only works in a proportion of recipients across a wide range of cancers. As with all cancer treatments, immunotherapy can have multiple side effects. Therefore, being able to predict who is most likely to respond to treatment helps ensure that patients do not endure these unnecessary side effects for no medical benefits. This study used samples collected in a large, multi-centre Australian clinical trial where combination immunotherapy was effective in 25 per cent of people with a broad range of advanced rare cancers, including rare gynaecological cancers, neuro-endocrine neoplasms, and upper gastrointestinal and biliary cancers.

The clinical trial focused on a type of combination immunotherapy known as immune checkpoint inhibitors. These anti-cancer agents block the body’s immune checkpoint proteins, allowing the immune cells to destroy cancer cells. In this case, the immunotherapy blocked the PD-1 and CTLA-4 checkpoints. Researchers used stool samples from clinical trial patients and performed deep shotgun metagenomic sequencing1 to map all the organisms within the participants’ microbiomes, down to the strain-level. They discovered multiple strains of bacteria in those who responded well to treatment, many of which had not been cultivated before. This allowed them to identify a microbiome signature that was found in patients who responded well to treatment. In addition to this, the team used this signature to train a machine learning model that could predict who would benefit from combination immunotherapy.

They conducted a meta-analysis of previous studies and found that their signature can be applied to different cancers, such as melanoma, and across countries, to predict individuals whose cancer will likely respond to combination immunotherapy. However, when applied to patients who received just one of the immunotherapy drugs, targeting the immune checkpoint receptor PD-1 only, the machine-learning model could not identify those who would respond to treatment. This suggests that the relationship between gut microbiota and treatment response is specific for particular therapeutic combinations and therefore suggests that future development of diagnostics tests or therapeutics that rely on the gut microbiome should be tailored to the immunotherapy regimen, regardless of cancer type. This step towards personalised medicine may help extend cancer treatments to more people and can match individuals to therapies that would benefit them the most.

Dr Ashray Gunjur, first author from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, Australia, said:

Our study shows that understanding the microbiome at strain-level, not just species-level, can open up a new level of personalised medicine. Having that extra resolution is crucial if we are to understand what is happening in the human body and the interplay between cancer treatment and the microbiome. Being able to test the specific mechanisms of this relationship between specific strains and response is the next horizon in this research, and one that could benefit human health in a multitude of ways.

Dr David Adams, co-senior author from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said:

Rare cancers can be hard to study and treat and while immunotherapy treatment can be incredibly effective in some of these cases, it can also be unpredictable. Our research shows that the microbiome impacts how well someone responds to combination immunotherapy, but that monotherapy gives a different result suggesting that the microbiome should be taken into account when developing therapeutics going forward. In addition to this, there is a possibility of developing live biotherapeutic products that could provide the bacteria shown to support immunotherapy, helping the microbiome work with the patient to give them the best odds of response possible.”

Dr Trevor Lawley, co-senior author from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said:

Our microbiomes vary from person to person, all of us containing a different ecosystem of bacteria and other organisms that shape our responses to the world around us. Our research highlights how an individual’s microbiome can predict how they will respond to cancer treatment, which can have a direct clinical impact by identifying those that would benefit the most, and aid in the design of future clinical trials.

Dr Oliver Klein, author from the Oliver Newton John Cancer Research Institute, said:

When considered altogether, rare cancers constitute around 20 per cent of all cancer diagnoses. Unfortunately, rare cancers are difficult to study and treat due to their infrequent nature. Combination immunotherapy can be incredibly effective in patients with rare cancers, and being able to identify factors, such as the microbiome, that are predictive of an effective response will be invaluable in making this treatment available to more patients.

Learn more about how the ONJCRI MoST CIRCUIT Rare Cancer Trial is bringing treatment to regional Australians.